Relationships take work. Anyone who has ever been in any kind of relationship with another person — whether a friend, family member, co-worker, spouse or significant other, or even an acquaintance — knows this. Aside from the energy that goes into initiating these relationships, we have to maintain them so that they endure over the years. Mutual care and concern, openness and trust, communication and presence are essential for healthy relationships. Certainly different types of relationships function with varying levels of give-and-take and frequency of contact, but all need some amount of maintenance to survive. And that’s just when the relationship is good.
All of us, however, make mistakes in our relationships — we forget a birthday or miss an event or share something that was told in confidence or don’t return a phone call. In a healthy relationship, as soon as we realize our misstep, we apologize and, if possible, rectify the situation. We also know that we’ll need to take measures to avoid slipping up in the future. Of course, we could just ignore our blunder, hope that it gets swept under the rug and forgotten and continue as though nothing happened, but we know that such behavior erodes the health of our relationships. Amends mend the relationship.
Though it may not seem like it, the excruciating details of the ritual offerings in Leviticus address these same rules of relationships, only our partner in the relationship is God. Parashat Tzav continues the instructions for the offerings that began in the previous parashah, Vayikra, to ensure that the Israelites know exactly what to do — as individuals, as leaders and as a community — to maintain their connection with God. Just as friends and family bring blessings to our lives, a relationship with God can as well, we just need to cultivate it.
For better or worse, we don’t have the option to bring offerings to initiate, maintain and repair our relationship with God. Our tradition teaches us that our prayers and our worship replace the animal offerings of our ancestors. But many of us no longer engage in the rituals and words that might bring us closer to God, if we even have a conception of or connection to God. As we read Parashat Tzav and the rest of Leviticus, I encourage you to explore your understanding of God or the Divine Presence and how you might cultivate and maintain your relationship. I hope that even the exploration itself brings blessing to your life.
Keren Gorban is associate rabbi of Temple Sinai. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.